Blast kills at least 13 in Islamabad market

Atleast 71 wounded by suicide bombing as Red Mosque reopenes; Official says gov't received intelligence about a possible bombing.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
A suicide bomber killed at least 13 people and wounded scores in an Islamabad market after hundreds of protesters clashed with police as the city's Red Mosque reopened for the first time since the army ousted Islamic militants in a bloody raid. The blast, targeting police, was the latest in a string of militant revenge attacks and deepened the security crisis facing embattled President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema said the government had received intelligence about a possible suicide bombing in the Aabpara market where the attack happened about 5:15 p.m. (1215 GMT) Friday. He said there would be an official inquiry into the security lapse, but he also blamed the mosque unrest for creating the conditions in which an attacker could strike. "If these people had not created such a situation it would not have happened," he said, adding the mosque was now indefinitely closed. Authorities had hoped to restore normalcy to the once-staid Pakistani capital by reopening the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, to the public, more than two weeks after the commando raid that dislodged militant supporters of the mosque's pro-Taliban clerics. More than 100 people died. But religious students on Friday staged protests inside the mosque compound and occupied it for several hours. They daubed red paint onto the walls and dome to restore its namesake color after a government restoration left it pale yellow. They also rose a black flag with two crossed swords - meant to symbolize jihad, or holy war. Street battles then broke out between stone-throwing protesters and police using tear gas. Soon after, a huge blast went off in an open-air restaurant at the Muzaffar Hotel, located in a crowded market district about a half-kilometer (quarter-mile) away from the mosque. "It was a huge explosion," said witness Mohammed Ali. "There were policemen sitting and standing at the restaurant and the explosion occurred after someone came near them," he said, his shirt stained from the blood of victims he helped carry to ambulances. "A policeman got blown into the air and landed away from the blast site," said another witness, Imtiaz Ahmed. Television footage showed rescuers rushing bodies from the scene, many bleeding and others partially stripped of their clothes and with skin blackened and raw from the blast. Khalid Pervez, Islamabad's top administrator, said 13 people were killed, including seven police, and 71 others were wounded, mostly bystanders. In a speech at the main entrance of the mosque, Liaqat Baloch, deputy leader of a coalition of hard-line religious parties, the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, condemned Musharraf. "The blood of martyrs will bear fruit. This struggle will reach its destination of an Islamic revolution. Musharraf is a killer of the constitution. He's a killer of male and female students. The entire world will see him hang," Baloch said. After the bombing, police retook control of the mosque, said Zafar Iqbal, the city police chief. Some protesters resisted and about 50 people were arrested, he said. The deteriorating security situation in the federal capital adds to the sense of crisis overhanging Musharraf's administration. He is under pressure from the US to tackle militancy, amid intelligence reports that al-Qaida is regrouping at the Afghan frontier.